This section is from the book "Beautiful Gardens - How To Make Them And Maintain Them", by Walter P. Wright. Also available from Amazon: Beautiful Gardens: How To Make And Maintain Them.
The average planter looks to trees for two things - shade and shelter. He rarely seeks in them individual beauty. When he comes to realise that there is at least as much ornament and interest in an Oak as in a Dahlia, we shall see less of the thoughtless planting which now prevails. A garden-maker tells himself that his garden needs shelter from certain quarters. This immediately suggests to him the necessity for running up a belt as rapidly as an American syndicate runs up a skyscraper, with the result that instead of improving his garden he permanently disfigures it, for the trees crowd and spoil each other.
A planter should educate his eye until he can get as much pleasure out of a well-grown tree as an architect can out of a noble and harmonious building. And just as the latter would look with loathing on a shapeless, ugly, and ill-designed structure, so the former should refuse to contemplate, except with distaste, a lopsided, Cabbage-headed tree.
The fact that a tree occupies so dominating a position when it has grown to its full size should teach the planter the necessity for extreme circumspection. He will be wise to carefully study the position before he puts spade to soil. Let him try to realise what each tree will be, not on the day of planting, but ten, twenty, thirty years afterwards. He will then be able to judge of the suitability of the positions that he assigns to them, both in relation to the house and to the general surroundings.
A young tree which is allowed plenty of room to develop will generally assume a graceful habit without much artificial aid. The knife may, indeed, do harm if used without consideration, as it may produce the early spreading habit which is the sure precursor of ultimate Cabbage-headedness. On the other hand, a little careful shaping may sometimes be needed, in order to preserve to the tree a good leader and an upright habit of growth.
In spite of the vogue for carved trees (topiary) which the early days of the twentieth century brought in (together with the odour of petrol), it cannot be doubted that the good taste of the nation will see that naturally grown trees are calculated to give the most lasting pleasure. Carved trees may have their place. A man coming into possession of Levens Hall might conceivably hesitate before cutting down and burning the remarkable examples of topiary which exist there. But it would be a bad day for British gardens and British landscape if the majority of designers decided on imitating them.
It may be accepted that a limited number of carefully placed forest trees will be an embellishment to a garden, and when the question of choice of material arises, the planter will find himself greatly helped by the good collections which now exist in certain large gardens. At Kew, for instance, he will find nearly all the best varieties of Oaks, and it may surprise him to discover how much variety, as well as beauty, there is in these noble trees.
The Elm he will be wise to eschew, so far as the garden and the immediate neighbourhood of walks are concerned, on account of its weakness for casting its branches; moreover, it is very greedy.
The Beech is a handsome tree, but slow-growing; nevertheless, a place should be found for the Copper Beech, for the sake of its rich colour.
Poplars are extensively planted, the Lombardy, Populus nigra pyramidalis, in particular. In the case of this tree, planters are undoubtedly tempted by its cheapness and very rapid growth, for it cannot be called a distinguished tree. It certainly has its uses. It is good for a summer sheltering belt, because if headed at about 6 to 8 feet it will break freely right up the stem, and form a close pyramid of foliage. But it will not have distinctive beauty. A far more effective tree is the White Poplar or Abele, Populus alba, which thrives in a cool, moist spot. The Aspen, Populus tremula, is also good.
The Sycamore is a valued tree too, and there are several distinct varieties of it.
The Ash, like the Elm, is open to the objection, as a garden tree, that its roots make hungrily for every manured bed in their vicinity, and so impoverish it that the rightful occupants fail to thrive.
The Chestnut is one of the most valuable trees we have. Not only does it assume a pleasing form, and clothe itself with handsome foliage, which is beautiful both in spring and autumn, but it produces a magnificent inflorescence. No one who has seen the famous avenue in Bushey Park when at its best will ever forget the sight.
The Birch is worthy of attention. The glistening stems of the Silver Birch, Betula alba, are familiar features of the woodland. There are several valuable forms of this beautiful tree.
The Maples are a numerous company, as in addition to the well-known common Maple, Acer campestre, we have the Japanese Maple, A. palmatum, with its several beautiful varieties; the Norway Maple, A. platanoides; the variegated
Negundo, and others. It has to be remembered, however, that some of the variegated Maples are not thoroughly hardy.
The Plane is a useful tree, particularly for town planting, and the same may be said of the Lime or Linden, in a somewhat modified degree. The London Plane, Platanus acerifolia, is the best of all trees for withstanding the deleterious effects of an impure atmosphere, but as regards intrinsic beauty some of the varieties of the Oriental Plane, P. Orientalis, can claim precedence.
The Pagoda Tree, Sophora Japonica, and its variety pendula, are good trees.
Fig. The Weeping Pagoda Tree, sophora japonica pendula.
It may be added, as a check upon those who might construe the strictures herein upon overcrowding as a recommendation to do heroic deeds in tree-felling, that there should be just as much consideration devoted to the question of removing a tree as of establishing one. Where trees are obviously going to ruin through overcrowding, apply the axe without hesitation. But whenever the question arises of removing an isolated tree, from whatever cause, take care to survey it from every point of the compass with due deliberation before a blow is struck, and consider the gap which will be left by its removal.